Isabella (1214-1241) (DNB00)

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ISABELLA (1214–1241), wife of the emperor Frederic II, born in 1214, was the second daughter and fourth child of John, king of England, and his queen, Isabella of Angoulême [q. v.] Her nurse, Margaret, had an allowance of one penny a day from the royal treasury in 1219 (Rot. Claus. i. 393). This was doubtless Margaret Biset, 'her nurse and governess,' who went with Isabella to Germany sixteen years later, and who during all those years had the care of the girl, left virtually motherless by the queen's re-marriage early in 1220. When in the following June Isabella's sister Joanna [see Joanna, Queen of Scotland] was betrothed to Alexander II of Scotland, it was stipulated that if Joanna could not be brought back to England before Michaelmas, Alexander should within a fortnight after marry Isabella in her stead; but this article of the treaty was not enforced. Twice within the next ten years Henry III vainly endeavoured to dispose of one of his sisters—probably Isabella—in marriage; first (1225) to Henry, king of the Romans, son of the man whom Isabella eventually married, and afterwards to Louis IX of France. In November 1234 the emperor Frederic II, then a widower for the second time, sought Isabella's hand at the suggestion of Pope Gregory IX, and an embassy, headed by his chancellor, Peter de Vinea, was sent to urge his suit in February 1235. After three days' deliberation Henry consented to the match; Isabella was brought from her retirement in the Tower for the inspection of the ambassadors at Westminster; they 'pronounced her most worthy of the imperial nuptials,' placed the betrothal-ring on her hand, and saluted her as empress. The marriage contract was signed 22 Feb. 1235. Henry gave his sister a dowry of thirty thousand marks, to be paid by instalments within two years, besides plate, jewels, horses, and rich wearing apparel. The marriage of a daughter of England with the emperor was a subject of exultation to both king and people, though the latter were sorely aggrieved by the immense 'aid' exacted for the occasion. Early in May the Archbishop of Cologne and the Duke of Brabant came to fetch the bride; she set out from London 7 May, under their care and that of the Bishop of Exeter, William Brewer. Her brothers accompanied her in a triumphal progress through Canterbury to Sandwich, whence she and her escort sailed 11 May; four days later they landed at Antwerp. Some of the emperor's foes were said to be in league with the French king to seize and carry her off, but the guard provided by Frederic was strong enough to prevent any such attempt, and on Friday, 24 May, she arrived safe at Cologne. Here she dwelt in the house of the provost of St. Gereon for more than six weeks, the emperor being engaged in a war with his own son. At last he summoned her to meet him at Worms, where they were married, and the empress was crowned by the Archbishop of Mainz (Chron. Tewkesb. a. 1235) on Sunday, 15 July (Huillard-Bréholles, vol. iv. pt. ii. p. 728). The wedding festivities lasted four days, and are said to have been attended by four kings, eleven dukes, and thirty counts and margraves, besides prelates and lesser nobles out of number. Isabella—or Elizabeth, as some of her husband's subjects called her—seems to have been a very winning as well as beautiful woman; Frederic was delighted with her, but no sooner were the wedding guests departed than he dismissed all her English attendants except Margaret Biset and one maid, and placed her in seclusion at Hagenau, where he spent a great part of the winter with her. The statement of later writers that Isabella's first child was a son named Jordan, that he was born at Ravenna in 1236, and that he died an infant, rests on no contemporary authority. The terms in which Frederic announced to some of his Italian subjects the birth of a daughter (Margaret), in February 1237, clearly imply that she was the first child of the marriage (ib. vol. iv. pt. ii. p. 926). Twelve months later the emperor and empress were in Lombardy together, and there, 18, Feb. 1238, a son, Henry, was born. In September Frederic sent his wife to reside at Andria in Apulia till December, when the Archbishop of Palermo escorted her back to Lombardy. Early in 1239 she spent some time at Noenta while her husband was at Padua; in February 1240 she returned to Southern Italy, whither Frederic soon followed her. He seems to have esteemed and loved her in a characteristically strange fashion, taking the greatest care of her safety, and surrounding her with luxury and splendour, but keeping her in strict retirement. Henry III complained that she was never permitted to 'wear her crown' in public, or appear as empress on state occasions, and in 1241, when her second brother, Richard of Cornwall, went to visit Frederic, it was only 'after several days' that, 'by the emperor's leave and good will,' he visited his sister's apartments. She died at Foggia, 1 Dec. 1241, at the birth of a child, which did not survive her. Frederic was then besieging Faenza; her last words to him when they parted had been a request that he would continue to befriend her brother the English king. She was buried at Andria, beside Frederic's second wife, Yolanda of Jerusalem. Matthew Paris lamented her as 'the glory and hope of England.' Her son Henry, titular king of Jerusalem after his father's death (December 1250), died in 1254. Her daughter Margaret became, by marriage with Albert, landgrave of Thuringia, a remote ancestress of the house of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.

[Roger of Wendover. vol. iii.; Matt. Paris's Chronica Majora, vols. iii. i. and Historia Anglorum, vol. ii,; Royal Letters. vol. i. (all in Rolls Ser.); Rymer's Fœdera, vol. i. pt. i. (Record edition); Annales Colonienses and Annales Marbacenses (Pertz's Mon. Germ. Hist. vol. xvii); Ann S. Justinæ Patavini (ib. vol. xix and Muratori's Ital. Rer. Script, vol. viii.); Richard of San Germano (Pertz, vol. xix. and Muratori vol. vii.); Huillard-Bréholles's-Historia Diplomatica Friderici II; Mrs. Everett-Green's Princesses of England, vol. ii.]

K. N.